Huntingburg option for plant’s wastewater

March 11, 2019 – by Olivia Ingle in the DuBois County Herald

Huntingburg, Indiana’s drinking water lake (shown) is being suggested by multiple economic development agencies to be used as a dump for a proposed coal to diesel refinery’s waste water in SW Indiana. They are making this effort to save the company proposing the refinery from having to build a twenty mile pipeline to the Ohio River to dump their waste and instead build a seven mile pipe to the drinking water lake. Photo © 2019 BlairPhotoEVV

Officials involved with the proposal of locating Riverview Energy’s direct coal hydrogenation plant on the north side of Dale are considering options for discharge of the plant’s wastewater, and Huntingburg has been included in the conversation.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said any conversation has been “very informal,” however, he was told that if the plant goes in, the company will be looking for places to accept the water discharge.

“They asked if water resources were available, would Huntingburg be interested? I said we’d be interested,” Spinner said.

He added: “As mayor, I responded by saying we would like to be a part of that conversation, because I believe it’s in the city’s best interest to be informed of all the potential effects such a project should have on our city if it is approved.”

Huntingburg is in the midst of planned water upgrades, and Spinner said the city is “always looking” for other water resources.

However, he said there has been no proposal brought by Riverview Energy or any other officials involved with the proposed Dale project.

“Should there be any proposal, it would be thoroughly studied by the city [and] our water department to determine what’s in the best interest of the city,” Spinner said. “If it has any merit at all, it would go through the full review process from our utility board.”

Riverview Energy has proposed a $2.5 billion direct coal hydrogenation plant — also referred to as a coal-to-diesel plant — to be located on more than 500 acres of newly-annexed land on the north side of Dale.

According to the company, “direct coal-hydrogenation is a unique clean-coal technology that uses pressure and hydrogen to convert coal into ultra-low diesel fuel.”

It would convert 1.6 million tons of coal, and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.

Riverview Energy has stressed the process doesn’t burn or gasify coal.

In its air permit application to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Riverview Energy proposed its water supply to come via pipeline from the Ohio River. It also proposed that the plant’s processed wastewater leave the same way, once treated, back to the Ohio River

John Blair, president of the environmental group Valley Watch and an active member of the Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group opposed to Riverview Energy’s project, heard about Huntingburg being approached for Riverview’s water when someone gave him a recording of a telephone conversation Spinner had about it with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Blair is worried about the contaminants that could be in the discharge water.

John Blair, Valley Watch president, is incredulous about a proposal to dump coal refinery waste water into the Huntingburg drinking water reservoir.”This is preposterous,” says Blair. Photo: Mary Blair

“The whole idea of taking refinery wastewater and putting it in a drinking water lake … is preposterous to me,” he said. “I don’t even know why they’d come up with that idea.”

In the recording, Spinner is heard asking questions about the water, such as: What is the state of the water when we receive it? Would there be a cost for us to accept it? Can our water facility handle more water? Are we only part of the solution?”

The representative with the Indiana Economic Development corporation didn’t have any answers for him.

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TVA ignores Trump and retires Paradise (KY) coal power plant by December next year

February 14, 2019 by- John Blair, editor

The Tennessee Valley Authority board shunned the directions it was given earlier in the week by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump and voted 6-1 to retire the incredibly filthy Paradise 3 power plant near Drakesboro, KY. Paradise will shutter its 971 megawatt unit by December of next year.

A “Combined Cycle” natural gas plant (in foreground under construction in 2016) has already replaced two of the three Paradise coal units. Next year the last of the coal units will shutter by the end of the year. Photo©2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Paradise has been a thorn in the side of Valley Watch since our inception and was once a 2650 MW behemoth that sent its massive levels of pollution for hundreds of miles whichever way the wind blew. At one time, the plant was the largest emitter of toxic chemicals in the entire southeast region of the USA. In addition, Paradise was responsible for decimating hundreds of acres of farmland around the area by Peabody Energy’s Sinclair Mine that provided the high sulfur coal consumed by the plant for almost 60 years. Later, the mine property was used to store huge quantities of coal waste.

Just this week, President Trump sought to influence the TVA Board’s decision by seeking to keep Unit 3 open indefinitely for the benefit of his friend Bob Murray of Murray Energy who supplies coal to the facility. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader made a similar request. but apparently neither were persuasive enough for the Board to follow.

This action will certainly result in the long term improvement of health for residents of the tri-state since this was one of the largest polluters in the region for decades.

Valley Watch has long sought the closure of this huge polluter and we celebrate this as yet another victory in our effort “to protect public health and the environment of the lower Ohio River Valley,” our stated mission.

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A Coal-to-Diesel Refinery Is the Last Straw for These Hoosiers

February 13, 2019 by Susan Cosier  in Our Stories/Midwest Dispatch at NRDC

The air in southwestern Indiana is bad enough without the emissions from yet another proposed polluter.

A billboard on Interstate 64 in southwestern Indiana making it clear how area residents feel about another coal plant in the region. Hele Productions

A towering billboard in southwestern Indiana greets drivers heading west on Interstate 64: “Governor Holcomb, please—No rotten egg smell! No more super polluters! No coal-to-diesel in Dale!” And adorning lawns across Spencer County are bright-yellow posters that read #NOC2D. The signs began going up last spring, about a month before the town council in the small farming community of Dale set aside more than 500 acres of cornfield for a $2.5 billion refinery that would convert coal to diesel fuel. The message is clear: Local residents don’t want the plant—or the cancer-causing and climate-warming emissions that would come with it.

One thing southwestern Indiana doesn’t need more of is air pollution, says John Blair, an environmental activist who runs the nonprofit Valley Watch. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, Spencer County ranks in the country’s top 1 percent for toxic substances that billow into the air.

Often called a “sacrifice zone” by locals, this corner of the state is already home to four so-called super polluters within a 50-mile radius. (All four are coal-fired power plants.) According to a permit drafted in December by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the new diesel refinery would add millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. The plant would also release nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulate matter at levels that the EPA considers significant, though IDEM says the facility would not violate air-quality standards. Yet what else the plant might emit is unclear since it would be the first of its kind built in the country.

The proposal, submitted by Delaware-based Riverview Energy, still needs the blessing of the EPA, but if approved, the plant would use coal-hydrogenation technology to produce diesel from coal instead of oil. The process, which won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1931, would provide a market for the state’s 17 billion tons of coal reserves. This coal, which is high in sulfur, is generally considered lower quality and especially dirty.Congress that we demand new action on climateT

“Riverview Energy thinks that this is going to alter the entire landscape of how we do transportation in the United States,” says Blair, who has worked to stop the development of coal conversion plants for nearly four decades.

Riverview’s proposal, which has been in the works for more than a year, comes at a time when utilities across the country are shuttering coal plants, wind power and solar power are becoming cheaper, and Americans are demanding energy sources that don’t mess with their health and the climate. That goes for Indianans, too. In October, one of the state’s largest utility companies, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, announced that it would eliminate its dependence on coal entirely by 2028. That commitment, says Rachel Fakhry, a policy analyst for NRDC, “is one of the most progressive not only in the Midwest, but also in the country.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, the Midwest’s dependence on energy from coal has decreased significantly over the past decade, from 70 percent in 2010 to less than 50 percent in 2017. The drop is largely due to utilities reviewing their bottom lines and realizing that a switch to cleaner fuels could cut costs and reduce electricity bills for their customers. “The landscape has changed,” says Fakhry.

IDEM, however, appears to be moving forward with the coal-to-diesel proposal anyway. It says it will address a number of issues the EPA had with its air-quality permit, including how it calculated the plant’s emissions, and file the final permit application later this year.

The people of Spencer County aren’t backing down either. In December, concerned citizens packed the Heritage Hills High School auditorium and spilled into the hallway. Forty-five people, including Mary Hess, president of the nonprofit Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life, spoke out against the refinery. Just seven spoke in support.

Hess is a former postal worker who began looking more closely at the environmental issues facing her community after she retired in 2013. After founding her organization last March, she set up an online petition opposing the plant. So far, more than 2,100 people have signed.

A rally in Evansville, Indiana, against a plan by Riverview Energy to build a new coal to diesel power plant in the state, August 2018.  Hele Productions

In addition to speaking with Riverview Energy and having Indiana health officials take a closer look at the community’s air-quality concerns, Hess’s group wants more air monitors installed around Spencer County. Armed with information from those monitors, they hope to show why the plant would be bad for the county, the state, and the region. Ultimately, she says, “our main goal is to stop it.”

Living in a country that already exports more diesel than it uses, Hess also questions the need for such a refinery. Sure, the technology “did win a Nobel Prize,” says Hess, “but so did the lobotomy.”

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At a crossroads, Ohio River agency weighs dueling proposals on role

February 4, 2019 – by Keith Schneider for Energy News Network

An industry-backed effort aims to end ORSANCO’s role in setting and enforcing pollution standards.

In the course of his decorated career in environmental law, Tom FitzGerald tamed the scourge of Kentucky’s renegade strip miners, prodded state regulators to protect groundwater from reckless underground mining practices, and kept some of the state’s wild rivers safe from oil and gas drilling. In these and the dozens of other cases he either won or significantly influenced as director of the tiny nonprofit Kentucky Resources Council, the 64-year-old lawyer served the public interest principally as an outsider.

Tom FitzGerald addresses crowd at a Louisville Forecastle Festival. Photo: BlairPhotoEVV

In 2014, though, President Barack Obama made FitzGerald an insider by appointing him to the governing board of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, more commonly known as ORSANCO. Today, FitzGerald is at the epicenter of a fierce industry-led struggle meant to end one of ORSANCO’s core missions — setting and enforcing safety limits on biological and toxic pollutants spilling into the river.

Since its establishment in 1948, the multi-state environmental agency has played an outsized role in improving water quality and ecology on America’s most important industrial river. Founded by an act of Congress and an interstate compact signed by the eight states of the 204,000-square-mile Ohio River Basin, ORSANCO has served as an innovator of policies and practices to reduce biological and toxic chemical discharges to the river. It developed and implemented so-called “pollution control standards” compelling cities and towns to stop dumping raw sewage into the Ohio River. It did the same for cleaning up chemical and toxic effluents from coal-fired power plants, refineries, and metals manufacturers along the river.

ORSANCO’s safety standards have been adopted by the six states that border the river, and incorporated by several states as requirements in discharge permits. It is widely credited for its big role in significantly improving water quality and ecological conditions along the river, which 5 million people depend upon for their drinking water.

The push to fundamentally change ORSANCO’s role is supported by some board members. But FitzGerald has fought back with a separate proposal that would maintain the pollution control standards and expand the agency’s work to help reduce biological and toxic chemical pollution. This month the full commission meets to weigh the competing measures.

Keith Schneider / Energy News Network

In 2014, utilities successfully challenged an ORSANCO water discharge safety limit for the J.M. Stuart coal-fired power plant in Adams County, Ohio. It was the first time an ORSANCO standard was nullified by a state environmental review board, and set off alarms and a review of the agency’s standard-setting program. The 2,318-megawatt power station closed in May 2018.

In regulation as in investment, previous achievements are no indicator of future success. Executives of coal-fired utilities and major manufacturers that operate along the river, and water quality managers in West Virginia and several other states, have been chafing for years at ORSANCO’s role in setting safety standards. One ORSANCO standard, adopted by Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2003, was particularly galling to industry. It barred “mixing zones” for PCBs, mercury, and other toxic chemicals — the practice of allowing industries to dilute pollutants in the river’s current to comply with water quality limits.

On June 18, 2014, an environmental appeals board in Ohio provided an opening to challenge ORSANCO’s standard-setting. The board sided with six big coal-fired utilities and formally rejected an ORSANCO human health safety standard included in a state discharge permit for a large coal-fired power plant in Adams County. Dayton Power and Light, the plant’s owner, and the five other utilities argued that the ORSANCO standard, which set a limit on the temperature of cooling water discharged into the river, was unlawful. They successfully argued that Ohio had never formally adopted the standard as a regulation.

The Ohio ruling, the first time an ORSANCO standard had been rejected by a state, set off alarms in the agency. It also provided the opportunity for utilities and their supporters on the ORSANCO commission to ask probing questions about the usefulness of the agency’s standard-setting program.

Tom Easterly was appointed by the Governor Mitch Daniels as Commissioner of IDEM. He claimed at the time that under him, the Agency would be considered “an economic development agency.” 

In December 2014, Thomas Easterly, the head of Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management and the ORSANCO chairman, formed a subcommittee to review how the agency’s water quality standards are embraced and implemented by states. FitzGerald was named as one of the nine members.

During the course of its work, the subcommittee determined the relevance of ORSANCO standards. In 188 instances, ORSANCO established a standard for a pollutant that neither the EPA nor a state set. There are 252 other instances in which ORSANCO standards were at least 10 percent more stringent than those of the Ohio River states or the EPA. ORSANCO typically establishes standards, embraced by the states, that are more rigorous than the EPA limits. Some limit discharges of pollutants known to be dangerous — ammonia, cyanide, and mercury.

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5G and potential health risks.

December 19, 2018-Editor’s note: The Valley Watch office now has a “smart meter.” Across the street, is a Verizon cell tower and along two sides of our building runs a Vectren 134 Kilovolt transmission line. Before the cell tower and the smart meter were installed, we took a Gauss Meter reading and found a very high level electromagnetic field everywhere on our property. Now, we have a new Vectren substation being constructed just down the street. This is in a residential neighborhood where people of all ages are exposed to this radiation on nearly a continual basis. Hmm.

Dr. Sharon Goldberg, an internal medicine physician & professor gives her testimony regarding the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. She says: “Wireless radiation has biological effects. Period.” Read more about it here:…

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U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

November 23

November 23, 2018 – by  Coral Davenport and Kedra Pierre-Louis in the New York Times

Fighting the Camp Fire this month in Magalia, Calif.CreditCredit:Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth.

Mr. Trump has taken aggressive steps to allow more planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks, and has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, under which nearly every country in the world pledged to cut carbon emissions. Just this week, he mocked the science of climate change because of a cold snap in the Northeast, tweeting, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

But in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.

“There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

All told, the report says, climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago.

Scientists who worked on the report said it did not appear that administration officials had tried to alter or suppress its findings. However, several noted that the timing of its release, at 2 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, appeared designed to minimize its public impact.

Still, the report could become a powerful legal tool for opponents of Mr. Trump’s efforts to dismantle climate change policy, experts said.

“This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations, and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is required by law to produce every four years. The first volume was issued by the White House last year.

The previous report, issued in May 2014, concluded with nearly as much scientific certainty, but not as much precision on the economic costs, that the tangible impacts of climate change had already started to cause damage across the country. It cited increasing water scarcity in dry regions, torrential downpours in wet regions and more severe heat waves and wildfires.

The results of the 2014 report helped inform the Obama administration as it wrote a set of landmark climate change regulations. The following year, the E.P.A. finalized President Barack Obama’s signature climate change policy, known as the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to slash planet-warming emissions from coal-fired power plants. At the end of the 2015, Mr. Obama played a lead role in brokering the Paris Agreement.

But in 2016, Republicans in general and Mr. Trump in particular campaigned against those regulations. In rallies before cheering coal miners, Mr. Trump vowed to end what he called Mr. Obama’s “war on coal” and to withdraw from the Paris deal. Since winning the election, his administration has moved decisively to roll back environmental regulations.

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IEEFA report: ‘Holy Grail’ of carbon capture continues to elude coal industry; ‘cautionary tale’ applies to domestic and foreign projects alike

November 23, 2018 – by IEEFA – Editor’s note, Valley Watch has long been opposed to the use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) due to its deleterious economics.  

Study details lack of economic feasibility around North American initiatives; costly and/or failed efforts at Duke’s Edwardsport, NRG’s Petra Nova, SaskPower’s Boundary Dam, and Southern Co.’s Kemper plant; technology seen as unworkable and too expensive for fast-changing electricity-generation markets

A study published today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis concludes that costly efforts undertaken in North America to develop workable, economic technology to capture carbon from coal-fired generation have come up short

Further, the study concludes that technology developments in the renewable energy and natural gas sectors have obviated the need for continued efforts to retrofit carbon capture technology on the nation’s shrinking coal fleet.

The report— “Holy Grail of Carbon Capture Continues to Elude Coal Industry”—tracks the history and performance of four highly touted projects: Saskatchewan Power’s Boundary Dam Power Station in Canada, NRG’s Petra Nova project in Texas, Southern Co.’s Kemper plant in Mississippi, and Duke Energy’s Edwardsport plant in Indiana.

“What all four of these projects have in common is their dismal performance,” said David Schlissel, IEEFA’s director of resource planning development and lead author of the report. “While Petra Nova and Boundary Dam are both operational, neither in truth can be considered anything other than demonstration units, the integrated gasification combined cycle project at Edwardsport has performed abysmally, and the Kemper clean coal project was essentially abandoned.”

While the report focuses on North American initiatives, it speaks as well to long-standing U.S. coal industry plans to sell carbon-capture technology abroad.

“Our findings serve as a cautionary tale for any country considering broad adoption of CCS for coal,” Schlissel said. “The technology remains unproven at full commercial scale, it is wildly expensive, there are serious questions regarding after-capture transport, injection and storage of the captured CO2 and—most important—more reliable and far cheaper power-generation options exist.”

The report traces a legacy of costly experimentation that began over a decade ago under the direction of the U.S. Department of Energy, which began in the early 2000s to seek ways to capture coal-generated carbon emissions to address climate change. American electricity markets relied on coal for more than 50 percent of power generation nationally at the time, a figure that has dropped to less than 30 percent and is continuing to shrink as natural gas and renewables gain market share.

“Electricity produced by renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, amounted to little more than a rounding error in the Energy Information Administration’s 2003 edition of its Annual Energy Review,” the report notes. “Today they account for more than 10% of the nation’s electricity generation, and both continue to gain market share fast.”

Meanwhile, technology-driven advances in natural gas production have given the energy sector a huge lift: “Supplies have soared and costs have been cut to the point that gas is now the only viable option for developers looking to build new fossil-fuel generation. Further, the utility industry itself, long a source of support for coal in general and specifically for CCS development financing, is now moving quickly away from coal.”

The report describes further how market forces have undercut the economics of retrofitting carbon-capture technology on the aging American coal fleet.: “High-risk, high-cost CCS investments looked potentially viable a decade ago but are being eclipsed today by less-costly ways to produce electricity while curbing carbon emissions,” it states.

Full report: “Holy Grail of Carbon Capture Continues to Elude Coal Industry”

Media Contact:
Karl Cates 917 439 8225

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Breathe easier in February. Henderson Muni to retire two Sebree units.

October 26, 2018-By Robert Walton, in UtilityDive.

Henderson Municipal Utilities operates two units in this complex that also hosts the Louisville Gas and Electric Company ‘s Reid Station. File Photo © 2018 BlairPhotoEVV.

Dive Brief:

  • Henderson Municipal Power and Light in Kentucky will close its coal plant early next year and turn to the open market for its power needs, as the aging plant’s energy production is consistently more expensive than available supplies.
  • Henderson’s 300 MW coal plant, Station 2, is operated by Big River which sells the excess energy. However, power from the plant costs approximately 33 times more than alternative generation and it ran infrequently, local news station WFPL reported earlier this year.
  • In a letter earlier this month, the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) approved the shutdown of Units 1 and 2 effective Feb. 1, 2019, after determining the generation was not necessary as a system support resource.

    Dive Insight:

    Coal-fired generators continue to close down, and Henderson’s power plant is only the most recent example. According to the Sierra Club, the plant is the 277th coal generator that has shut down or announced plans to do so since 2010. And new research finds closures are accelerating.

    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) on Thursday released an analysis estimating 15.4 GW of coal-fired capacity will close this year, including 44 units at 22 plants. This year at least 11 GW have retired and the final tally is predicted to eclipse the previous record of 14.7 GW retired in 2015. IEEFA estimates another 21.4GW of coal-fired capacity will close over the next six years.

    A literal “mountain” of coal ash sits along the Green river just south of the Big Rivers/Henderson Municipal coal plant near Sebree, KY. © 2010  BlairPhotoEVV

    “The competitive environment for coal-fired power in the generation marketplace is becoming ever more challenging,” Seth Feaster, IEEFA data analyst and author of the report, said in a statement. He pointed to the declining cost of renewables and natural gas prices that “are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future.”

    There have been exceptions. Just last week, FirstEnergy announced it would delay closing its 1,300 MW coal-fired Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia. The plant had been slated to close next year, but will instead continue operating into 2022. That decision, however, had less to do with coal’s long-term viability and more with the bankruptcy proceeding of FirstEnergy Solutions. 

    IEEFA estimates that in July the U.S. coal fleet stood at about 246 GW, but by the end of 2024 that capacity could be reduced 15%.

    “Cost is the biggest force in the decline of coal, as renewables and gas-fired generation are proving cheaper and more flexible,” the analysis said, also warning the electric generation industry is “well into a fundamental transition that is gaining momentum and will probably accelerate as technology disruptions occur.”

    As for the Henderson plant, MISO informed Big River three weeks ago that “the decision to retire is considered final and the existing interconnection rights for the generators will be terminated as of the retirement date.”

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Barbra Streisand releases “Don’t Lie to Me” video attacking Trump

October 13, 2018 – By Barbra Streisand

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A layman’s utility primer

October 8, 2018-Now You Know with Zac and Jesse 

On today’s episode of “In Depth” Zac & Jesse talk about the overwhelming support by the public for going 100% renewable, and the what your utility isn’t telling you. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have some pledge rewards you may be interested in, so go check that out. Now You Know! #nowyouknow #renewableenergy #tesla

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Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals

August 28, 2108 – by Damian Carrington and Lily Kuo in the Guardian

Impact of high levels of toxic air ‘is equivalent to having lost a year of education’

Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.

Previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women.

The damage in intelligence was worst for those over 64 years old, with serious consequences, said Chen: “We usually make the most critical financial decisions in old age.” Rebecca Daniels, from the UK public health charity Medact, said: “This report’s findings are extremely worrying.”

Air pollution causes seven million premature deaths a year but the harm to people’s mental abilities is less well known. A recent study found toxic air was linked to “extremely high mortality” in people with mental disordersand earlier work linked it to increased mental illness in children, while another analysis found those living near busy roads had an increased risk of dementia.

The new work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed language and arithmetic tests conducted as part of the China Family Panel Studies on 20,000 people across the nation between 2010 and 2014. The scientists compared the test results with records of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide pollution.

They found the longer people were exposed to dirty air, the bigger the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than mathematical ability and men more harmed than women. The researchers said this may result from differences in how male and female brains work.

Derrick Ho, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the impact of air pollution on cognition was important and his group had similar preliminary findings in their work. “It is because high air pollution can potentially be associated with oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration of humans,” he said.

Chen said air pollution was most likely to be the cause of the loss of intelligence, rather than simply being a correlation. The study followed the same individuals as air pollution varied from one year to the next, meaning that many other possible causal factors such as genetic differences are automatically accounted for. Continue reading

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Billions At Stake: Should We Invest In Struggling Power Plants Or Communities Facing Closures?

August 23, 2018 – by Sonia Aggarwal  in Forbes. Editor’s note: Coal-fired power plants in the Tri-State are experiencing similar issues in that they cannot compete in the marketplace of producing electricity due to a variety of economic and physical factors. None are less than 30 years old (Rockport 2 came online in 1988) and none were projected to have life over 40 years when built. Duke, Vectren, AEP, Big Rivers, IPL, Alcoa and TVA are all facing the same problem. 

FirstEnergy Solutions’ coal and nuclear power plants are facing serious economic challenges, along with the workers and communities that depend on them, and are hoping for a billion-dollar annual bailout from the Trump Administration.

The company filed a deactivation notice for three of their power plants in March, just submitted closure plans for those plants to the federal government, and filed for bankruptcy this spring – calling into question the future of at least three more power plants that are exposed to the competitive market.

New research shows  FirstEnergy would be the recipient of an estimated $2 billion in subsidies over just two years if the Trump Administration’s coal and nuclear bailout becomes reality . They’d be kept online through payments that contradict market economics, but the fundamental economics causing their distress won’t change. And when these funds do dry up, the power plant workers and host communities facing economic distress would be right back where they are today – wondering what comes next after power plants close.

Perry Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 1, one of the FirstEnergy nuclear plants in danger of closingNUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION ON FLICKR

So what if instead of using billions to bail out FirstEnergy and other big power plant owners for a couple of years, funds were redirected to help communities with power plants that can no longer compete in power markets?  What if those funds went to communities—rather than a few power plant owners —to support the inevitable transition, diversifying local economies and creating a longer-lasting solution?

The new reality of energy economics means coal and nuclear can’t compete

Fast-falling clean energy costs are making many old power plants around the country unable to compete. Coal and nuclear are now more expensive than alternatives like natural gas, wind energy, and solar power in regional power markets designed to avoid expensive options and cut customer costs.

Natural gas prices are near the lowest they’ve been in 15 years, solar and wind power costs dropped below those of building coal and nuclear power in 2017, renewable energy costs are forecast to keep falling through 2050 while the cost of operating coal and nuclear plants keeps climbing due to needed upgrades as plants age.
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Bucolic Indiana town to become mega industrial center

August 18, 2018 – by John Blair, Valley Watch president and editor of

Every few years someone pursuing a “get rich quick” scheme comes up with an idea to use coal as a feedstock for other forms of energy like liquid or gaseous fuels. In my forty some years as an Evansville resident, there have been more than a dozen of these ploys proposed for using coal in the Illinois Basin.

Only one has been built.

That was the financial disaster at Edwardsport proposed in 2004 by Duke Energy to cost $1.4 Billion and would be “Carbon Capture Ready.”  Yes, today that plant is operating but at a level no where near what Duke claimed it would when they persuaded a proven corrupt Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in 2007 to give them authority to spend $1.985 Billion to build a 630 Megawatt “Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant they promised would operate at greater than 80% efficiency. Duke, not only had their hands in ratepayer pockets, they also had $133 million in Federal Income Tax Credits.

Today, that plant has failed using nearly every criteria, especially regarding its cost which the IURC has allowed to increase to a whopping $4.5+ Billion lemon, that leaves Duke’s ratepayers holding the bag for at least $3.65 Billion.  And it is nowhere near capturing any of the voluminous Carbon Dioxide that is contributing to climate change. If Duke had captured CO2, that would have raised the capital cost for the plant by an additional 50% and also cut the efficiency of the plant another 25-40% by consuming that much of the power the plant was designed to produce.

At about the same time Duke was making its pitch, calling Edwardsport, “clean coal,” another proposal was announced by then Governor, Mitch Daniels for Rockport, a town that was already one of the dirtiest communities on Earth for Toxic Emissions (approximately 30,000,000 pounds, according to USEPA’s Toxic Release Inventory at that time).

It was called Indiana Gasification (IGLLC) and sponsored by a financial holding company named Leucadia National. Like Duke, they hoped to cash in on the generosity of Federal and State governments. The Feds were ready to give them a Department of Energy Loan Guarantee of $2.8 Billion to pursue their dream of riches. And the State of Indiana gave them their biggest plum, legislation that made the State of Indiana their only customer buying all the syngas produced by the plant but then would force Indiana residential and commercial customers (not industrial customers, of course) to buy the syngas from the state at a massive premium just for the honor of getting our home heating gas from coal.

Then indiana governor, Mitch Daniels gestures as he tries to explain why Hoosier residential gas consumers should pay a premium for the privilege of heating their homes from coal derived gas shortly after he signed a bill forcing them to do so. Looking on is the late Rockport Mayor, Nedra Groves. © 2009 John Blair

After following what I called the Communist Chinese “model of business,” that plant was never able to reach financial and economic viability due to a variety of factors including cheap natural gas and loud protests from opponents like Valley Watch and the Citizens Action Coalition.

Finally, in 2014, Leucadia abandoned the project after I personally met with their CEO to discuss the enormous risks the company was taking even with all that taxpayer assistance.

But sadly, there is no shortage of stupid enrichment schemes for people when it comes to coal, especially around here, where in some circles, coal is God.

In 2010, a company of Connecticut carpetbaggers calling themselves Clean Coal Refining Corp. decided to exploit the hopes and dreams of economic development officials of Vermillion County, just north of Terre Haute. They promised a $3 Billion coal to diesel plant at the former US Army Newport Chemical Depot where deadly nerve gas had been stored since early in the 20thCentury for possible use in chemical warfare. Remote and secure, Clean Coal Refining took on another name Riverview Energy Corp. when it became apparent that coal refining was not the way to market a new project, even in coal friendly Indiana.

Once the name was changed sponsors promised Vermillion County officials the moon and more. After all, their project would be an economic panacea for the area, revitalizing a depressed section of the state. It gained full support of then Governor Daniels and his Lt. Governor, Becky Skillman who directed the State Center for Coal Technology Research at Purdue to provide support for the project.

But then, something went very wrong. Clean Coal Refining had optioned 1,500 acres of the Depot’s 8,800 acre facility, promising a “feasibility study” of the process and proposal that would make financing of the project easy. But, the study was never made public and financing never materialized.

After six long years, in October 2015, the Depot’s Reuse Authority decided they had had enough of the Connecticut’s firm’s empty promises and officially refused to renew Riverview Energy’s option on the land, effectively shutting the project down.

Like most people hoping for large profit on small investment, Riverview went to the State of Indiana asking where else they might go to develop their ill-fated project. They were told to check out Spencer County that was already a heavily polluted venue that had a reputation for taking anything that promised jobs, big investment and lots of chemical emissions. They talked to LincolnLand Economic Development Corporation, which had sought not only the failed Indiana Gasification project, but also a more recently failed Ohio Valley Resources mega fertilizer plant.

In almost total secrecy, Riverview and LincolnLand set the stage for 512 acres of prime farmland to be annexed into the bucolic town of Dale for use in a scaled down $2.5 Billion project, that would nearly double the physical area of the town. Again, nearly secret meetings were held to negotiate the sale and annexation of the land for use by Riverview. But secrets are fairly hard to keep in a small town and as word filtered out about the secret meetings, town residents were skeptical of becoming home to a experimental project that had never been used commercially anywhere in the world using coal as a feedstock.

When the annexation was passed in August 2017, one of the town board members told a local resident that he voted on it even though he knew nothing about it or the process it would use.

That set off alarms for several residents who were already concerned with high levels of various diseases in the area, especially since this was an experimental technology at the proposed size not far from an elementary school.

It did not take long for Dale residents to organize a new grassroots group using the moniker NOC2D or No Coal to Diesel. They sponsored public forums and started posting yard signs all over the small community in direct defiance of the Town Board which still acts as if the plant’s proposal is something that should remain as secret as possible.

LincolnLand and the sponsors  pledged to hold their own public information forums in April but four months later have, at best, offered private, invitation only affairs where they control who attends and who asks questions. Continue reading

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Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor joins Valley Watch in opposing huge Vectren rate increasing proposal

August 13, 2018- by John Blair, valley editor 

Today, for perhaps the first time ever, the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor came out against a proposal by Vectren Corporation that if approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission would ultimately increase electric rates for southwest Indiana residential and commercial electric customers bills by nearly $1 billion.

While Valley Watch has fought for years for reduced usage of coal as an energy source, and was pleased when Vectren announced their intention to retire three coal units in the 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, we have had serious reservations about the sheer size and cost of their proposal build a giant natural gas facility at the AB Brown site in southeast Posey County at a cost to could cause significant economic harm to most of the residential and commercial customers.

Today’s announcement by the OUCC sill surely set in motion a clash between Vectren, Valley Watch Citizen’s Action Coalition and other intervenors as to the future of that plan. 

OUCC Counselor, Bill Fine said in their announcement, “Any electric utility that seeks to overhaul its generation fleet today must evaluate all possible options. It must also carefully examine the ways its options would impact its customers in terms of both money and electric reliability. In this case Vectren has not evaluated all options or shown that that it is proceeding on the most prudent manner.”

Source: Citizens Action Coalition

Earlier today, in a release sent out by the consumer watchdog, Citizens Action Coalition, Valley Watch president, John Blair asserted, “It is time for the IURC to finally step up, say no to Vectren, and deny this nearly one billion-dollar ratepayer rip-off. Vectren residential customers already pay the highest rates in Indiana. Ratepayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize alleged Vectren growth in the industrial sector. Why should residential customers subsidize industrial customers at all?”

Valley Watch, whose purpose is to “protect the public health and environment of the lower Ohio River Valley, is committed to fair, just rates for clean, safe energy. Currently, southwest Indiana and western Kentucky  is home to nearly 15,000 megawatts off coal fired electric generating capacity that for decades has impacted the health of citizens of the region in very negative ways. All but around 4,000 of those megawatts are sent out of the region and that 4,000 serves to run the enormous electric needs of three of the USA’s remaining eight aluminum smelters.

Alcoa Warrick Operations is the largest aluminum smelter in the US. It emitted more than 4 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the SW Indiana environment in 2009. © 2011 John Blair

Air pollution, water pollution and land pollution from these giant facilities permeate our environment and will have negative impacts for the region for years after they cease operation.

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IEEFA update: Duke Energy’s costly Edwardsport coal-gasification project continues to underperform

August 1, 2018-by David Schlissel in IEEFA News Editor’s Note: Valley Watch has  steadfastly opposed this plant since it’s conception offering sage testimony at the original CPCN hearing in Bloomington in 2007.

Duke Energy’s 5-year-old gasified coal power experiment in Edwardsport, Ind., has turned out to be a catastrophe for ratepayers.

Duke Energy’s Edwardsport plant has been a financial disaster for Hoosier ratepayers.

That’s the main conclusion of the testimony I submitted yesterday to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission on the plant, which was sold at the outset as a cost-effective integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) project that burns gasified coal, or syngas.

The all-in cost of power from the plant, including financing costs and profits for Duke, averaged $145 per megawatt-hour (MWh) over the 55 months from its opening in June 2013 through December 2017, according to the latest available data. And that doesn’t include the $397 million Duke collected from Indiana ratepayers for the plant even before it went into service.

Market prices, by comparison, averaged $32 per MWh over the same period.

This means that Duke’s ratepayers paid in excess of $1.4 billion more for power from Edwardsport than they would have spent to purchase the same energy and capacity from the competitive wholesale markets in the 15-state region encompassing the grid managed by Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

Edwardsport will continue to burden ratepayers unless the commission takes some strong action.

A plant that by any empirical measure has fallen well short of expectations—and will most likely continue to do so.

My testimony explains how it is unreasonable—given Edwardsport’s high O&M expenses—to expect that the plant will produce a net economic benefit for ratepayers at any time in the foreseeable future. Indeed, Edwardsport is likely to become even more of an economic problem for Duke’s Indiana ratepayers as now-entrenched market trends persist.

Natural gas prices are expected to remain low, and design and technological improvements are driving down the costs of competing wind and solar resources. As more natural gas-fired generators and more wind and solar renewable resources are added to the MISO grid, Edwardsport will become even less economically viable. Two forces in particular are working against the plant: The fact that market prices can be expected to remain low, if not decline over time, and the likelihood that generation from Edwardsport will be displaced by lower-cost wind and solar energy.

BY ANY EMPIRICAL MEASURE, EDWARDSPORT’S OPERATING PERFORMANCE HAS FALLEN WELL SHORT of what Duke promised the Indiana commission it would be when the company sought permission to build it.  Those metrics include heat rate, capacity factor, equivalent forced outage rate and availability of syngas.

And by any forward-looking empirical measure, the plant’s performance, especially on syngas, should not be expected to improve significantly at any time in the foreseeable future.

Edwardsport is faltering persistently on several fronts:

  • The plant continues to lose a significant portion of its potential generation due to gasifier equipment problems, which explain its extremely poor 40% capacity factor on syngas during its first 55 months of operations, far below the 79 percent average capacity factor projected by Duke.
  • The plant continues to consume large amounts of power just to operate onsite equipment (known as “parasitic loads”) and is often shut down due to unanticipated problems or forced to operate at less than full power.
  • The plant’s heat rate, a measure of the efficiency with which it burns fuel, continues to be extremely high, meaning the plant must burn more fuel to produce the same power. This increases the fuel costs that ratepayers must bear.
  • The plant has had to be shut down for extended maintenance outages in the spring and fall of each of the last few years, a pattern that is expected to continue.
  • Duke has been unable to offer into the MISO markets the plant’s maximum output of either 618 MW during the non-summer months or 595 MW during the summer months.

EDWARDSPORT, IN SHORT, HAS OPERATED UNRELIABLY AND IS ENORMOUSLY EXPENSIVE TO RUN, with total operating and maintenance costs alone averaging $60 per MWh since it opened.

Its core problem, in technical terms, is that it is uneconomical unless both trains of its gasification plant operate as intended, in tandem, with both of its combustion turbines and its steam turbine producing electricity at a net capacity factor averaging 82% or more when operating on syngas. It is operating at barely half that factor.

By common regulatory standards, the plant simply cannot be considered fully “used and useful” as an integrated gasification combined cycle power plant due to its poor performance and excessive costs. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, as a result, should strictly limit the plant’s operating and maintenance costs that Duke can pass along to ratepayers, thereby assuring that they pay only reasonable prices for the electricity, and only for power they actually receive from Edwardsport.

David Schlissel is IEEFA’s director of resource planning development.

Full testimony to Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission

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